Basketry materials from the garden or growing wild

Contents

Climbers and Trailers

In many case little work is required to prepare and some can be woven immediately after gathering. Can be used stripped or unstripped – best stripped when green. To store – remove leaves, tie into coils small enough to fit into a container for soaking later. Will probably need soaking before use.

Blackberries, raspberries (Rubus spp)
Red, brown, green with interesting texture. Generally strong and pliable but vary in strength and length. Traditionally used for stitching coiled rye baskets and bee skeps. Remove any thorns by drawing a hand in a thick glove, from tip to base and then in the other direction. Use as soon as possible. Canes can be split.
Clematis
Creamy when stripped. Weak joints. See honeysuckle for how to peel.
Grapevines (Vitis spp)
Can be gathered any time. Ideal for large, strong baskets. Easily split and these half round sections are good for rims and hoops and frames of rib baskets. Keep the vines soaked while working.

Honeysuckle
Gather in spring or summer. Use for wickerwork, coiling core and rib basket weaver. Choose vines that are away from the main tangle as they grow long and straight in search of a support and may have fewer leaves. Garden varieties tend to have longer stems, but tangled wild stems can be used without unravelling.Strip off any leaves by running your hand down the vine. Coil each vine separately.
Use stripped as the fibres shred, (though this may be the desired look). To strip off the bark tie into a coil and boil for 3-4 hours. If the bark doesn’t come away easily then rub with a plastic mesh pot scrubber. Boiling also helps strengthen fibres. Coil again to dry and store. Will store for months, even years. Soak in warm water for at least an hour before use.
Hop (Humulus lupus)
Wild hop stems have a rough texture and are unpleasant to use, garden varieties (eg H lupus aureus) kinder to hands. Cannot be soaked so use before too dry. Flowers can be kept on as a decorative touch.
Ivy (Hedera spp)
Useful for decorative leaves, choose stems with small leaves. Leaves can be preserved by soaking cut stems in solution of glycerine (1 glycerine: 2 water) for 4-5 days. See honeysuckle for how to peel.
Passion Flower (Passiflora spp)
Not for a robust basket but fine winter prunings with tendrils can be used.
Periwinkle (Vinca spp)
Use the light coloured stems for slath tying or weaving small baskets.
Roses (Rosa spp)
Collect in autumn or winter. Remove leaves and thorns with a gloved hand, boil to remove bark. Coil and dry for 2 – 4 weeks to allow for shrinkage before use. Pliable stems used for wickerwork and more brittle ones for hoops and ribs in rib baskets. Dog rose (Rosa caninis) is a striking green, thorns can be removed individually.
Strawberry (Fragaria spp)
Gather in spring or autumn. Runners can give a red colour to small baskets.
Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia)
Gather in summer. Can be used when fresh if pliable enough or after storing. Remove leaves but nodes and bumps give an interesting texture when woven. For wickerwork and rib baskets.
Winter flowering jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum)
Will keep its colour if weather just for a short time.
Wisteria
Stems and vines can be used. Supple and strong. Can be used stripped or unstripped. For wickerwork, rib baskets hoobs and ribs. Bark can be used for coiling stitching. Harvest spring, summer and autumn. Use whole or strip while still green.
Also
Akebia, Boston ivy (Parthenocissus trisupidata), morning glory.

WOODY SHOOTS

Gather between October and March, when the sap is down, cut with sharp secateurs and leave 2 – 3 buds for new growth. Most tender shoots from hardwood trees or shrubs can be used to make baskets. Any one year old rods that will not snap or break when wrapped around wrist are suitable, best over 45cm long. Useful shoots from length 30 – 120 cm, diameter 4 – 8 mm. To store – tie into bundles about 10 cm around and label. Store tip end down to stop shoots slipping out, or store butt end down in paper bags. As a general rule – let them weather in a damp shady spot eg under a hedge for 2-3 weeks. Store tip end down to stop shoots slipping out, or store butt end down in paper bags.
Rods can be gathered from apple, pear and other fruit trees, elm and hazelnut. Look out for suckers and shoots from newly felled trees. To put in perspective for 30 cm round basket you would have to gather 70 – 100 rods
Apple
Shoots, suckers, branches. Gather in spring. Use thin, flexible, straight green shoots. For handles and ribs tie into shape when green and leave to season.

Beech (Fagus spp)

Long fine buds and interesting spidery branches. Too brittle to be used in baskets, but good in balls.
Dogwood
Red brown. Collect in winter. Store in cool, dry place for 2-4 weeks to allow for shrinkage.

Holly (Ilex spp)
Use long thin green stems. Don’t weather for too long or they become brittle.
Privet (Lingustrum spp)
Can be left to grow for a year before cutting for a small basket.
Also
Rowan, lilac (Syringa), mulberry, sycamore

Coppiced or pollarded rods

Eucalyptus
Young bushy side shoots are violet coloured. If kept dry woven items will keep colour. Pluck leaves off by hand. Pollard after 2 years growth to give colour.
Lime (Tilia spp)
Stems that have been in bright sunlight have the best colour.
Willow (Salix spp)
Brown willow has been dried with the bark left on.
Buff willow is brown willow that has been boiled and peeled – tannins in the bark give it this colour during boiling
White willow has had the bark stripped off in spring.
Buff willow should be soaked between 30 minutes and 2 hours, white will take a little longer, brown from 2 days to 2 weeks. Then mellow in a damp cloth such as an old towel or blanket, for a few hours or preferable overnight. This will allow moisture to soak through the willow. Buff and brown willow will stay useable for 2 days then will go mouldy. Brown willow can be kept for up to a week like this.

Varieties

  • S babylonica – weeping willow, withies for wickerwork and weavers for rib baskets. Gather in spring before leaves appear rods can be pruned or fallen rods gathered from the ground. Coil and use immediately or store. Soak before weaving.
  • S daphinoides – purplish bloom
  • S discolour – Pussy willow used for wickerwork
  • S japonica – shiny pink pussy willow buds in spring
  • S nigra – black willow – rods and roots – for weavers and hoops and loops for rib baskets.
  • S purpurea – purple willow, twigs and withies used for wickerwork, plaiting, weavers, hoops and loops in rib baskets
  • S sachalinensis – flattened curved branches
  • S triandra – twigs and withies used for wickerwork, plaiting, weavers, hoops and loops in rib baskets
  • S viminalis – twigs and withies used for wickerwork, plaiting, weavers, hoops and loops in rib baskets
  • S vitellina – bright yellow shoots

Garden prunings

Suckers
Beech (Fagus spp); Fruit trees – apple, pear, plum; lilac; poplar (Populus spp) – use before buds become sticky, some may have aromatic smell; sweet chestnut (Castanea sativa) – thick – handles

Bay laurel (laurus nobilis)
Look out for straggly stems searching for light at the base of plant. Aromatic leaves can be included in weaving.
Butcher’s broom (Ruscus aculeatus)
Thinner stems good for distinctive round of 4 stranded randing
Cotoneaster (Cotoneaster spp)
Choose long pieces with no side branches
Dogwood (Cornus spp)
Red, green, yellow stems. Responds well to pruning and will produce more stems the following year. Pliable, can be used anywhere in a basket.
Eucalyptus Blue Gum(Eucalyptus globulus)
Use branches for coiling core. Pods can be used as ornament.
Forsythia (Forsythia spp)
Slightly textured bark. Only useful as weavers. From a light pruning in spring.
Laburnum (Laburnum spp)
Fine silvery wood. Good for randing. All parts of tree poisonous.
Mock orange (Philadelphus lewisii, P inodorus)
Twigs used in wickerwork
Privet (Langustrum spp)
Fine greyish rods, Good for side weaving.
Peach (Prunus persica)
Short but colourful pink shoots. Good for French randing.

Snowberry (Symphoricarpus albus)
Long smooth silvery shoots and twiggy branches.
Vine (Vitis spp)
Long jointed growths with tendrils.
Weilega (Weilega spp)
Long red/brown stems. For weavers only.

Wild prunings

Ash (Fraxinus spp)
Long stout stems from previously pruned plants. Good for handles – use finger thick rods, ease into shape, tie and leave to dry for 2-3 weeks.
Blackthorn or Sloe (Prunus spinosa)
Purplish bloom. Long thorns have to be cut off before use (upper branches have less thorns).

Dogwood (Cornus spp)
Not as pliable as garden varieties. Can sometimes be used for stakes. Choose from sunny side of hedge and from plants with deep purple leaves in autumn.
Elm (Ulmus spp)
For larger baskets. May need to be soaked for a few hours before use.
Field Maple (Acer campestre)
Ginger brown shoots, often with textured bark.
Hazel (Corylus spp)
Traditionally used for gipsy baskets yet dull and tends to crack when bent at right angles. Plentiful. Catkins can be used.
Spindle (Euonymus spp)
Green and retains some of its colour if used fresh. Straight shoot with reddish vertical lines.
Yew (Taxus spp)
May be possible to find a long shoot for handle. Poisonous.

Special Textures

Alder (Alnus spp)
Pick early when male catkins hard and female still violet coloured. Cones not robust and are best removed.
Birch (Betula spp)
Bushy branches ar touch on hands but do provide contrast colour for side weaving. Weeping birch (B pendula) has purple catkins, cut early.
Blueberry (Vaccinium spp)
Prune to give short bushy textured branches. May retain colour if kept in dry dark place. Soak in hot water before use.
Broom (Cytisus spp)
Use side shoots. Dark green colour best retained if kept dry after cutting. Soak for a few hours before use if necessary.
Corkscrew Hazel (Corylus avellana contorta)
For an unusual handle or frame basket.
Hazel (Corylus spp)
Undeveloped catkins on fine shoots can be used in small baskets.
Larch (Larix spp)
Shoots with cones can be used for side weaving. May need to be soaked.
Magnolia (Magnolia spp)
Young growth with tight velvety flower buds can be woven.
Mistletoe (Viscum album)
Yellowy green leaves and stems can sometimes be used with other more bushy woods. May be brittle.
Oak (Quercus spp)
Young shoots with oak apples
Pussy Willow (Salix caprea, cinerea or discolor)
Cut long branches before silvery male catkins develop yellow pollen. Not all willow catkins will stay on branches when dry.

Leaves

Leaves can be soft and delicate or tough and sturdy. There are subtle variations in colour which may be affected by the time of harvesting and method of storage and preparation. Usually the later in the year for harvesting the browner the colour and the darker the storage area the more original colour will be retained. Collect as leaves start to die down.
  • Cut or pull the leaves from the base of each plant. Keep the bases of the leaves together in bundles.
  • Discard any damaged, dirty or mouldy leaves.
  • They can be spread out on a clean, dry surface in a shady area with plenty of air movement. Turn the heap of leaves frequently to allow them to dry evenly. Or you can hang them in a dry shed preferably well ventilated and dark.
  • When dry tie in bundles or secure with rubber bands.
  • Each bundle should be protected from dust, and moisture. This can be done by wrapping in newspaper securing with tape and labeling.
  • Small leaves like corn leaves and philodendron leaf bracts can be stored in cardboard boxes.
  • Store in a dry place. A cupboard is ideal.
  • Check your material regularly to make sure that they are still in good condition. Discard damaged leaves.
Artichoke (Cynara scolymus)
Leaves used whole or split for plaiting and twining.
Bamboo (Bambusa spp)
For plaiting.
Crocosmia
Use in coiling as core or stitching. Also for twining and cordage. Gather in autumn.

Cordyline terminalis
Use leaves in cordage and twining. They are very thin, but strong. Pull dry leaves from the plant before they become tattered.
Daffodil (Narcissus spp)
Use and prepare as for iris. They seem to hold more water so remove as much water as possible in towels before using.
Daylily (Hemerocallis fulva)
Prepare as for iris leaves. Lighter in colour than iris, can be used together.
Fatsia japonica
Leaf stems. Collect any time. Dry until just pliable. Use as core for coiling.
Iris (Iris Spp)
I siberica is best for weaving. Gather in the autumn when they are at their strongest. If picked before the first frost more of the green colour will be retained. Cut low to the ground. Spread on a rack or screen to dry. Tie in bundles for storage tip ends down. To use: Soak in warm water and wrap in towels to mellow or wrap in wet towels and leave overnight.
Gladiolus (Gladiolus spp)
After flowering pull dry leaves at base of plant. Dry. Soak as briefly as possible.
Hard rush

Good for fine, green weavers. Can be plaited and woven after plaiting. Soft rush becomes brittle and shrinks.

New Zealand flax (Phormium tenax)
Use whole or split – remove the centre rib from each leaf and coil them by rolling with the shiny side into the centre so that they don’t shrivel into a tight cylinder. For wickerwork, coiling = core and stitching, twining and cordage.
Plantain (Plantago spp)
Use stem, cut at base, dry, soak to use.
Sedge (Carex spp)
Collect in the autumn. Dry then soak to use. Found in wet conditions. May cut hand if rubbed the wrong way. Leaves triangular in cross section and strong. Good for braiding, twining and coiling.
Spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum)
Use for twining, coiling – core and stitching
Also
Red hot poker, palm, pampas grass
Yucca
Several species of yucca can be used to make baskets eg Y filamentosa leaves for coil stitching and plaiting Y glauca leaves for platting. Traditionally used by Hopi Indians for shallow bowls, sifters and mats. The leaf is usually split into fine strands and plaited. (Roots were split and used in making figures and decorations.) Leaves of other species gathered young, while they were pale, so that they could be dyed. Others were used for threads and cordage because of their strong fibres.

Leaf Stems

Staghorn sumac (Rhus glaba)
Tapered stems up to 40 cm long. Use for wickerwork.
Also
Arum lily

Grass or grasslike

Grasses need drying and curing. They are useful for coiling, braiding, stitching and plaiting and twining.
Oats (Avena spp)
Gather in summer. Use as core in coiling. Cut and dry, tie in bundles to store. Soak in warm water to use.
Rye (Secale cereal)
Harvest late summer – times vary according to species and locality. Colour of finished product may depend on time of harvest. Drying in sun or shade may be successful turn occasionally, tie in bundles and take indoors to cure. Use for coiling core (bee skeps) and plaiting
Timothy grass
Gather stems late summer/autumn for coiling core.
Wheat (Triticum spp)
Stems for coiling core. Harvest late summer. See rye for preparation.
Also
Bulrush

Stalks

Used for splitwork and plaiting which take advantage of their rigidity eg bamboo and corn.
Goldenrod (em>Solidago spp)
Collect stems in early spring, autumn or winter. Soak dried stalks. Rub with fingers or a cloth to remove the thin outer layer. Use ornamentally (for beading) in twining or coiling.
Also
Maidenhair fern (not from the wild), Palm

Fibres from plant parts

These have been traditionally used to produced rope, cord and threads from ships’ hawsers to fine linen. Eg agabe, sisal, hemp, jute, flax, nettle. Separated by pounding, soaking, retting, chewing, pulling, and combing. Can be used by basket makers for stitching, coiling, twining, lashing, knotting and handle making.
Mother in law’s tongue (Sansevieria trifasciata)
Dry leaves, may take months. Pound with a mallet (they might still retain some water) to reveal white fibres.
Nettle (Urtica spp)
Collect in the autumn for cordage and tying. Dry. Soak to separate fibres from pulp and bark. Stronger than cotton or hemp.
Yucca (Yucca spp)
Cordage can be made by soaking entire leaves and pounding to soften. Split by running needle down the length, twist the results into cord.

Miscellaneous

Bamboo
Sheaths – the husky outer covering of the stalk – can be used. Soaked and split into strands they can be used for cordage.
Corn husks (Zea mays)
Cut stem end off cobs and remove the husks. They are strong and durable. Separate and dry, turning frequently. Dried husks dye well. Store in paper bags, boxes or baskets. To use soak and split. They can be plaited into long strips and stitched together as in coiled baskets or braided rugs and mats. They can also be used for handles and decoration.
Seaweed

9 thoughts on “Basketry materials from the garden or growing wild

    1. Hi Greg. Nothing I have tried (yet) but seen some recent posts on Facebook. Will let you know if I find them again. Sorry not to answer sooner, I’ve been away. Barbara

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    1. Hi Nancy. Glad you like the site. It’s one I set up several years ago and haven’t gone back to until recently. I’ll have to start posting again! Have you managed to try anything?

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    1. Hi Beth.
      Thanks for your comments about the site. It hasn’t been updated recently so I was surprised to see it still gets quite a few visitors.
      Where are you? Here (Plymouth UK) Pampas grass is an exotic. Used as an occasional ornamental in gardens and perhaps a symbol for something else (https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/shortcuts/2017/may/31/pampas-grass-secret-symbol-swingers-turn-off-sales-plummeting !), now not as popular as it used to be. The City Council has some growing spectacularly on a large roundabout, but it started spreading into the surrounding countryside and was removed afterward. My only experience is using hand tools to hack one down one hot summer as it was growing into a pond liner.
      I can see references to pampas grass as a decoration or mulch and leaves for weaving. Have you tried that? If so they cut you? Nothing for the canes. I don’t know how sturdy they would be for use as stakes for garden structures (https://cpb-us-e1.wpmucdn.com/blogs.cornell.edu/dist/f/575/files/2016/03/newlogoDigArt-Basket-Weaving-2kfur7s-17h15s4-1hs96h1-27dij9n-1wili3t.pdf)
      Do let us know if you find a use!

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